What is the one city that comes to mind when thinking about regal history, richness, and stories from the incredible Madhya Pradesh? Well, the answer is - Gwalior!
Gwalior is one such city that brims with evocative stories from as early as the 10th century. The city's richness takes you back in time as you witness the history unfolding right before your eyes.
If you plan to visit Gwalior only for a day, you might get the taste of just a sip of wine! But if you want to savour Gwalior entirely, then you would have to drown in it completely! Thus, give Gwalior two or three days at least, and trust me, you would not regret it one bit!
The diversity of the city amazes you. You have rock-cut Jain temples with giant statues popping out of nowhere on the hillside, and then you also have the tomb of Miyan Tansen on the other hand.
Likewise, various stories would force you to open your mouth wide in awe. So put your seatbelts on as I take you on a journey around the best places to visit in Gwalior.
By afternoon, I arrived at Tansen Residency. It is a hotel run by the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Department (MPTD). The rooms were excellent and spacious. The tourism office is right inside the Tansen residency.
MPTD offers the service of taking you around the city in a cute little yellow bus for a minimal price. The tour is for about three hours and covers Jai Vilas palace, Sun temple, Tansen's tomb, Gujari Mahal, and ends at the Gwalior fort called Gwalior Darshan.
The bus runs in two shifts:
First, one from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm and the next one from 03:00 pm to 08:00 pm.
However, I found the time to be too little to cover these sites properly and hence did not opt for it. My hotel was right on the main road, making it convenient to find the rickshaws and negotiate the price (the best part!).
Without wasting any more time, I dropped off my bag in the room and decided to head off to the Jai Vilas Mahal.
Jai Vilas Palace
Jai Vilas Palace, aka Jai Vilas Mahal, stands right in the heart of the city. It was built in 1874 by the valiant Maratha ruler, Maharaja Jayajirao Scindia, and at present, it stands proudly between the lanes of a residential layout.
It is said to have nearly 400 rooms, of which 40 rooms have now been converted into a museum—the museum, established in 1964, houses many such artefacts from the Maratha Kingdom.
Amidst tight security, you enter the posh museum and are enthralled by its ornate European style. The beautiful Indian furniture, the royal Palanquins, Persian carpets, silver and gold cutleries, massive paintings, precious coins, and chandeliers- all give you a glimpse of the regal lives of our Maharajas lived.
Maratha Sindeshahi Pagdi
What stood out to me is the making of Maratha Sindeshahi Pagdi.
The Pagadi looks simple and lightweight when seen on display. But guess what, it takes weeks to make one intricate Sindeshahi Pagdi! Yeah, you read that right— weeks!
One turban is made of nearly 80 meters long Chanderi silk cloth. They weave it intricately, die it, go through some more careful processes— all of it by the efficiency of bare hands!
These turbans are meant only for the royal family. You can also spot statues of Gods being adorned with these Pagdis in many temples. These Pagdis are also used on occasions at Ujjain Mahakaleshwar, Kaal Bhairav, and so on. A fascinating video in the museum shows how these Pagdis are made.
However, the sad part is that this beautiful art is dying! Only one person called Mohammad Rafiq is in his mid-seventies, who knows how to make these turbans.
On the upper floors, a vast room is dedicated to Madhavrao Scindia. It showcases his love for cricket, politics and the desk he used, the medals and accolades he received.
Another notable thing in the palace was the long dining table, lined with silver chairs and silver cutlery on either side. There is a striking feature to it —a miniature train running around the table, carrying brandy and whiskey bottles around! How fascinating and cute!
The other section of the palace amazes you with stunning glasswork! It is surprising to see chairs with legs made of solid glass. You can even see a staircase made in complete glass.
Just next to it is the Durbar Hall. It houses one of the most ornately designed and massive chandeliers you would have ever seen! Imagine the magnificence of the room when the chandelier is lit!
However, despite the expensive artefacts in the Jai Vilas Palace, the place lacked a charming aura and aesthetics. It presented a sorry scene!
Consider this— beautiful and lustrous world-class chandeliers hanging in an abandoned and filthy room, with old and torn curtains.
There is a bedecked Pooja set up but with a very basic, toy-like statue of Krishna. Then there is this fabulous dining room filled with cheap plastic flowers! The precious mirrors were placed randomly as if they were on sale! How unlike the glory of the royal palace.
This is the grim reality of the place that once stood in full glory.
The entry fees to Jai Vilas Mahal are 100 INR for Indian adults and INR 600 for foreigners. The museum is open from 10:00 am to 4:45 pm. Visitors can also enjoy snacks, such as coffee and cakes, in a cafe outside the Mahal.
Well, it is in the name itself! Gwalior Fort is one of the prime locations to visit in Gwalior!
The magnificent Gwalior fort takes your breath away at the very first instance! It has a wall studded with yellow, blue, and turquoise tiles running along the Gopachal hill cliff with deep gorges all around. The fort also has multiple temples and palaces.
Gwalior fort has witnessed various invasions during the course of time. Yet the fort stands as mighty as ever. It moved hands from Sens to Tomars to Mughals to British to Marathas to Scindias, and each one of them either destroyed a portion of it or built something for themselves.
However, the fort's primary attraction is the Man Singh Palace built by Raja Man Singh Tomar. It is very intricate with heavy lattice and jaali work, bearing testimony to yesteryear's flawless craftsmanship. Gwalior fort was used as a prison, and many influential people, kings, and princes were kept captive in it by the Mughals!
Gwalior fort's glory cannot be covered in a few paragraphs; it needs a separate blog post of its own. It has a ton of stories you can talk about, like the stories of valour, stories of love, and stories of sacrifice.
So read about Gwalior fort here - History of Gwalior Fort and Tour around the Fort.
Apart from the Man Singh Palace, there are other glorious palaces —Jahangir palace, Karan Mahal, and many other fascinating places inside the Gwalior fort.
You will need a vehicle to shuttle between them. Hiring a guide would prove extremely useful to take you through the memorials and give relevant and fascinating details about them.
Rock Cut Jain Statues
Gwalior Fort offers you a lot of striking features. The rock-cut Jain statues are also among them.
These life-like statues are a part of the fort itself, along with temples and mosques. You will not believe your eyes when you come across these larger-than-life statues, the tallest measuring up to 58 feet! There are two sets of rock-cut Jain caves.
One is on the Gopachal hill on the Urwahi road, and another set is on the Siddhachal caves. Both these different styles honour the Tirthankaras in their own sweet way.
Read more about the Jain monuments here - Rock Cut Jain Monuments of Gwalior fort.
Sas Bahu Temple
That is a misnomer that later found its meaning! Read on...
Originally this temple was called the Sahastrabahu temple and gradually became pronounced as the Sas Bahu Temple.
Two temples are standing next to each other. The bigger one is obviously the Sas (mother-in-law), and the smaller one is considered the Bahu (daughter-in-law). Funny, isn't it? Sahastrabahu, on the other hand, means a thousand needles.
The Kachchapaghata rulers constructed these temples. Besides the marvellous carvings and stories on the temple premises, you can see on the walls of these temples a unique technique called "etching." This makes the temple richer with finer details.
From here, you can see the whole of the Gwalior city in a breath-taking view. All the photographers out there, this is your call! It is one of the best places for Gwalior sightseeing.
Driving down from the Gwalior fort, another landmark that you will hit is the prestigious Scindia School.
The famous school is an all-boys boarding school. For obvious reasons, you are not allowed to enter the school.
The school was started by Maharaja Madho Rao Scindia exclusively for kids of the royal family. Maybe that is why people stop here and look at it with awe.
Opposite the school was a dreamy staff quarter. That was all about here, so I moved on to the next destination.
Gurudwara Data Bandi Chhor Sahib
This Gurudwara was built during the 1970s and 1980s. The place demands a short story be told. Here it goes—
The sixth Sikh Guru Hargobind Singh, became a Sikh Guru by the age of 11 itself after his father, the fifth Guru, was martyred by Jehangir. Later, Guru Hargobind Singh built the Akhal Takth and the military regime of Sikhism.
Fearing his sudden rise, Jehangir imprisoned the Guru in the Gwalior Fort. The Guru was arrested at the tender age of 14 yrs and was released around 19 yrs.
There is an exciting story about his release too. It so happened that Jehangir fell sick and was about to die. The people in his court suggested that he pray to the sixth Guru and cure him. Jehangir did that.
Guru Hargobind was not the only one to be imprisoned.
There were 52 other kings arrested there under the pretext of not paying taxes (or some other alleged petty crimes).
Guru Hargobind Singh demanded all the kings' release, and Jehangir ordered, "Take as many of your kings as can hold on to your coat!" So the clever Guru got himself a special extra-long coat made. Thus all of the 52 imprisoned kings held onto the coat and were therefore released.
The release of the Guru coincides with a date close to Diwali and is known as Bandi Chhor Diwas (the day of leaving prison).
I hung around the Gurudwara for some time, but I was a bit early. Sadly, this time, the langar wasn't served, so I moved on to my next place.
Teli ka Mandir
What a name, right? — you would wonder.
Well, it is so named because a wealthy 'Teli' guy offered to build it. Teli means an oil merchant. Teli ka Mandir was constructed during the reign of King Mihira Bhoja of the Pratihara dynasty.
It is surprising to see a Dravidian-style Gopuram on the temple, which is quite rare to see in North India. It is one of the most prominent Gwalior monuments that you will come across.
With this, all Gwalior monuments within the fort are done, and now you can come downhill and explore the city for the rest of the places.
Gujari Mahal Archaeological Museum
We all know the love story of the Gujari princess Mrignayani and Raja Man Singh Tomar. The palace he built for his beloved is now an archaeological museum of great eminence. Love is eternal, indeed!
It is the state museum, and there are many artefacts and sculptures stacked here. However, the museum is closed on Monday, and I reached there on a Monday afternoon.
Alas! All I could do was stand by the door and admire the sculptures around, looking at the path that leads straight to the Gwalior Fort.
The museum is in a sorry state. Looking at the broken water pipes, I feel that it lacks proper maintenance and needs immediate attention.
Tansen's Tomb and Tomb of Mohammad Ghaus
Miyan Tansen needs no introduction. But did you know he hailed from Gwalior? Well, this is about his Guru, Ghaus. Storytime again!
We all know that Tansen was perhaps the greatest Hindustani singer in the court of Emperor Akbar. I am sure all of us would have heard his stories about how he could light a lamp or even bring down the rain just by his melodious singing.
Did you know that Tansen was born with speech impairment?
Yes! His parents took him to Mohammad Ghaus for treatment.
Ghaus helped Tansen with his speech and trained him to become the world's greatest singer.
Herein lies the Guru's tomb, which is more magnificent and more elaborate than his disciple's tomb.
More about history and trivia about Tansen's life here - Miyan Tansen’s Tomb At Gwalior
An annual music festival called Tansen Sangeet Samaroh takes place in Gwalior in November or December. Be on the lookout for it!
Chhatri of Jhansi Ki Rani Lakshmibhai
The valiant Jhansi ki Rani, Lakshmibhai, died in Gwalior, and at the place where she was cremated stands a monument. It is her statue, standing tall in all its pride.
One of the earliest women freedom fighters, she bravely jumped off the Gwalior fort while on the back of her horse and breathed her last in 1858.
This place is more like a park, and she stands tall in the middle of the park. One can feel all that courage through her. There is also a burning fire that is always kept alive in her memory.
Sun Temple Gwalior
As it is called in Hindi, the Sun temple or the Surya Mandir is a replica of Konark Sun Temple. The temple is embellished with wheels and horses pulling around, and the temple is modelled like a chariot with the Sun God riding it.
The temple was not very artistically impressive, but there are sound sculptures and spacious gardens around it, making it a scenic spot. It is a serene place to spend your evening with squirrels playing about and palm trees dotting around.
And that is how you spend couple of days in Gwalior. If you still have the strength you can finish it up with the sound and light show. Or keep the fort as your last item to look around.
How to Reach Gwalior
Gwalior is well connected by train, road, and air. Gwalior has its own airport so you can fly directly into it. You can also take a road trip to Gwalior.
I was touring around the state, so I headed to Gwalior from Orchha. From Orchha, you do not have a direct train, but you can catch on from Jhansi, which is not far from Orchha. I think I took an auto-rickshaw from Orchha to Jhansi and caught the train.
So you are all set to reach Gwalior. No excuse not to visit this glorious place would work now!
Tourist Map of Gwalior City
Here is a tourist map of the Gwalior City and places are marked below and clicking on the markers takes you there.
Where to Stay in Gwalior
Gwalior is a big city and you have plenty of good options to stay. I stayed at the MPT Tansen Residency. The hotel is run by tourism board and they have done pretty good job. If you are planning to take the Gwalior Darshan, then it is a good idea to stay here and book your day tour at the tourism office. There is also a souvenir shop in the premises and named as "Mrignayani". If you are looking for heritage options, there is Taj Usha Kiran Palace and Neemrana's Deo Bagh.
Here is where you can book your hotel in Gwalior - Gwalior Hotels